February 1, 2001 - From the February, 2001 issue

Florida State Growth Commission Report: A Bold Model For U.S. & California

To curb rampant sprawl and urban decay Gov. Jeb Bush created the Florida Growth Management Study Commission and asked Mel Martinez, the recently appointed Secretary of HUD, to chair it. TPR is pleased to excerpt the Commission's final report, entitled "A Liveable Florida for Today and Tomorrow," which proposes improving growth management policies by encouraging incentives and revamped regulation to redirect growth back to the urban core.

This Commission believes that it is the State's highest priority to achieve a diverse, healthy, vibrant and sustainable economy. By promoting an economic climate which provides economic stability, maximizes job opportunities and increases income for its work force, Florida will be in the best fiscal position to address the other major challenges of our State which are education, infrastructure, the environment, public safety and social services. Our proposed reforms for growth management have been guided by this principle. For more than 25 years, Florida has tried various legislative approaches to address the stresses of our State s rapid growth. These efforts resulted in a mandate to create a vertically integrated, state, regional and local comprehensive planning system. As a result of landmark legislation passed 15 years ago, all 472 local governments in Florida have adopted comprehensive plans that attempt to address the community's current and future plans for land use, natural resource protection and provision of infrastructure. These mandates raised the minimum bar for planning efforts in this State, and have produced some significant positive results.

Yet, these prior efforts have fallen short of our collective aspirations and some requirements, such as traffic concurrency, had unintended negative effects. We agree with the assessment that although the processes established by these laws are well intended, the quality of growth has not met our expectations, the strains on infrastructure have been only marginally reduced and, in essence we have created a more complicated, more costly process without the expected corresponding benefits. Traffic congestion, school overcrowding, loss of natural resources, decline of urban areas and conversion of lands without adequate infrastructure are, despite our laws, growing problems throughout the State.

There is a tendency to equate new development as the only cause of growth related problems, rather than to recognize that new development is a free market way of accommodating the demands of our State's rapid population and economic growth. We cannot continue to erroneously conclude that techniques that target only the effects (development) will somehow change the root cause (population growth), and that a regulatory framework applied on a project-by-project level, will be more effective than a broad and innovative incentive based approach, coupled with new sources of revenues. This is one reason why the concurrency model has failed to meet our needs.

No system should be immune from change and our growth management system is no exception. A realistic look at the results of our past efforts, combined with the imperative of still rapid population growth, demand that we seek to improve upon our past efforts at growth management. Local governments and their citizens must have the tools and the assistance to accommodate these changes while retaining or regaining their sense of community. Improved processes are only part of the future. Technology has created tools for better governmental decision-making that are both remarkable and easily accessible. Data on population composition and growth, economic forecasting, computer-based resource mapping, and visual graphics, among others, are all new tools which allow communities to visualize and measure the impact of alternative growth proposals. Not only do these tools bring a remarkable wealth of information to the fingertips of local government decision makers, but they also make the information much more accessible to citizens who wish to participate in the process

While technology has changed the way we live and work, people are the essence of a community. The current system relies too heavily on litigation to resolve disputes between citizens, and between citizens and their governments. We must create and take advantage of opportunities for earlier citizen participation in a community's planning if we are to build the necessary consensus to make healthy and livable communities.

In addition, many local governments have sophisticated planning staffs and have already produced innovative and creative solutions to local problems. However, these same governments have chafed under the rote requirements of the current law and found their time and money diverted to achieve compliance with requirements which have had little positive impact on their local planning efforts. While complex mandates may have been necessary to bring us to this point in our local planning efforts, it is time to turn our attention to achieving quality planning resulting in livable communities. We believe in order to reach this goal, the State must refocus its efforts on a more incentive based approach to planning and a more effective regulatory program targeted on limited, critical State issues while shifting its primary role from a regulator to a partner of local government. Likewise, local governments must be given the tools and economic incentives to bring their plans to the level of quality and accountability that the citizens of Florida seek. Local plans should be adaptive and evolutionary in nature, allowing a diversity in neighborhood design, responsive to our population's changing needs and desires.

Although a livable community does not consist solely of good roads, water, sewer and bandwidth capacity, these amenities are basic to our health and quality of life. Infrastructure planning and funding is one of the glaring deficiencies in our current planning system. The current system envisioned infrastructure keeping pace with population growth, but our roads and schools, in particular, are increasingly over-burdened. Our growth management systems do not fully integrate with school planning and have never attempted to include planning for the critical government services of police and fire protection, much less forecast the need for operation and maintenance of infrastructure. By failing to address the true costs of population growth development, both past and proposed, we continue to borrow against future revenues, while the quality of life in our communities slowly dissipates. As we respond to new growth and address our existing infrastructure deficits, communities must evaluate their choices in a fiscally responsible manner.

We do have a great opportunity to make a real difference in the livability of our communities for all citizens. It will take more disciplined use of our dollars and prioritizing of activities, both state and local. If we are to succeed, to keep a thriving economy and preserve the precious natural resources and communities that we have, we must engage the creative and collaborative efforts of many more of the residents of our communities. Real change is within our grasp if we have the courage to realistically face our challenges together.

Creating More Livable Communities

A. Integrate Schools into Community Planning

Recommendation 64: Change state regulations governing the minimum criteria for school locations in order to build smaller schools in urban cores targeted for revitalization.

Recommendation 67: Local governments shall ensure the availability of adequate public school facilities when considering the approval of plan amendments and rezonings that increase residential densities. The local school board must communicate to the local government that it has exhausted all reasonable options to provide adequate school facilities before a local government may reject or delay approval of a plan amendment or rezoning which increases residential density or intensity. This should not apply to projects that have already received development approval.

B. Urban Revitalization

1. Re-establish an urban framework

Livability vs. Mobility has been the paradox that has caused our frustration with the built environment. Compact development within the context of urban revitalization builds on the principle that puts "people first" in the planning process and "fix it first" in the budgetary process. When development is viewed in this context, the primary goal is to create an environment which places the greater emphasis on a mix of uses within reasonable walking distance.

2. Livability: A prescription for revitalization

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Unique Character

Each city has natural and cultural assets which distinguishes it from their neighbors. By valuing the heritage of a community, its sense of history (while preparing for the future), new structures, and the people they serve can be developed with a shared context. This connection with the ambiance of a place is intrinsic to a city's self identification. When lost, the physical environment can become homogenous and predictable. The Main Street which was the focal point of business, commerce, and civic functions has all to often given way to strip centers, regional malls, and big box retailers. While these changing retail patterns reflect the current shopping habits of consumers, there is still a need for a retail focal point (a "main street") in the traditional urban core.

Safety

The creation of safe neighborhoods, free from real and perceived criminal activity, is an important aspect of the revitalization process. Clearly, safety is important because it frees people to experience the full offerings of the city. The public realm of sidewalks, streetlights, open space as well as the expenditure of human capital for police officers contributes to the feeling of security.

Density

Density is the concentration of people, buildings and activities in a localized area. When these elements reach a critical mass, an efficiency of services and a vitality become apparent. Density enhances commercial and social encounters. High octane street level activity creates economic opportunity which attracts diverse populations.

Economic Vitality

The nature and the location of the work place has changed. Technology has increased the number of workers who telecommute. The shift from manufacturing to an information service economy has brought a demand for decentralized employment centers in low rise office parks. Where the city center was once the focus employment. Now the commute is from suburb–to–suburb. Cities in order to compete need to create a level playing field for private investors. The urban core must cultivate an attitude that economic development is important. The success of private investments translates into greater employment opportunities, higher property values and the resultant higher tax base.

Diversity

Our cities should be a reflection of what we find valuable in our community. It is a balancing act of competing needs, pedestrian vs. the automobile, small business and large business, community needs vs. individual consideration, an aging population vs. the baby boom echo in conjunction with immigration. A diverse place for living provides a framework in which these polar interests can coexist. Our revitalization efforts must consider housing options for its residents, in style and prices, multi-use facilities to reduce duplication of resources. We must foster public/private partnerships for the ownership of amenities.

3. Multi Modal Transportation Planning

The prospect of a livable community with its vital services and amenities within walking distance provides enhanced employment opportunities for non-drivers, increases the number of trips made by alternate modes of transportation, increases the vitality of the street which is deterrent to crime, encourages civic interaction.

4. Regulatory Process

The Growth Management Framework, like our urban centers, needs revitalization not demolition. In particular the Regional Planning Councils are being asked to assume a greater role in collaboration with local governments in being the stewards of the growth management process.

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